Agriculture is the backbone of the Malawian economy with over 80 percent of its citizens relying on small-hold farming. Adequate rainfall is required not only to grow the crops that represent 90 percent of the country’s exports, but also to ensure a steady supply of clean water to its citizens.
Recently, extreme weather has resulted in serious drought conditions in south eastern Africa. Harvest yields have declined substantially and in many cases failed completely resulting in widespread food shortages. Malawians struggle to access potable drinking water and to irrigate their crops.
Ernest Chakwera and Nancy Machera, two MasterCard Foundation Scholars, are taking action. They have teamed up to create Project 7840; a social entrepreneurship project that uses locally available resources to help Malawians access water for consumption and for crops. Their initiative, which is located in Khwelewere village in the Ntchisi district of central Malawi, promotes sustainable water use through harvesting, storing, purifying and distributing water throughout the community.
Collaborating with leaders and community members, Project 7840 will use local resources, recycled plastic bottles and containers, and junk car and bicycle parts to build wind turbines, water storage tanks and a purification and distribution system. The first phase focuses on collection and storage of rainwater. Together with the community, a catchment area will be identified and a series of furrows leading to the site will be built. Four 5,000 litre tanks will be constructed for storage. In the second phase of the project, wind turbines, water pumps and piping systems will be installed for purification and then for distribution.
Ernest outlines one benefit of Project 7840: “This venture will allow farmers and families in Ntchisi to have access to potable water for drinking and irrigation. Water coming to the home will substantially cut the time and burden of women fetching water. Sanitation will increase as will the health of families.”
In addition to addressing the critical need for access to reliable and safe water, Project 7840 will also provide support and education to local farmers about sustainable farming techniques, local market opportunities and financing options. Collaboration with the community is a key success factor as Nancy and Ernest envision the community taking over the water collection and distribution process once it is up and running, allowing Project 7840 to expand to other villages.
“In six months we want to see families harvesting enough water to sustain their family food needs. Providing farmers with a means of irrigation will enable them to plant crops more than once a year, thereby increasing their yields,” Nancy explains.
Project 7840 combines sustainability and community development; two interests that Nancy and Ernest share. Nancy, a second-year Barrett Honors civil engineering student at Arizona State University (ASU), seeks to use her education to design and build green infrastructure, such as buildings and bridges. Ernest, now in his third year at ASU, is interested in applying his knowledge of sustainability and economics to find solutions for environmental and social issues. Nancy and Ernest hope their project will ensure that every household in Ntchisi has safe drinking water and enough harvest to get them through each year.
This post is the third in a series highlighting winners of the Resolution Social Venture Challenge, which took place earlier this year at the annual Baobab Summit in Ghana for university level Scholars. Learn more about The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program, click here.